A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN 207 vard. The trams clanged merrily, and merry was the laughter of the children who. though pale and thin, were busily burrowing in the warm, dry sand at the foot of the monument. Farther down the boulevard, behind a rope barrier, and guarded by two rosy-cheeked girls in smart military tunics, could be seen the silvery, cigar-shaped body of a barrage balloon, and this implement of war looked to Meresyev not like a night-watchman of the Moscow sky, but like a large, good-natured animal that had escaped from the Zoo and was now dozing in the cool shade of the trees. Meresyev shut his eyes and turned his smiling face up to the sun. At first, the children paid no attention to the airman. They reminded him of the sparrows on the windowsill of ward forty-two, and amidst the sound of their twittering he absorbed with his whole body the warmth of the sun and the noise of the street. But one little fellow, running away from his playmates, tripped over Alexefs outstretched feet and went sprawling in the sand. For an instant, the little fellow's face was contorted by a tearful grimace, then it assumed an expression of per- plexity, which gave way to a look of horror. The child cried out in fear and scampered off. The entire flock of children gathered around him and for some time chirped and twittered with alarm, casting sidelong glances at the airman. Then they slowly and furtively drew near him. Absorbed in his reflections, Alexei noticed nothing. He opened his eyes and saw the children gazing at him in surprise and fear, and only then did he become conscious of what they were saying. a You're fibbing, Vitamin! He's a real airman. A senior lieutenant," gravely observed a pale, thin lad of about seven. uTm not fibbing!" protested Vitamin. "May I drop down dead! Honestly, they're wooden! Not real, but wooden, I tell you!" Meresyev felt a stab at the heart, and at once the brightness of the day was dimmed for him. He raised his eyes, and at his glance the children backed away from him, still gazing at his feet.